The best books that leave you questioning identity (and maybe reality, too)

Why am I passionate about this?

When I start a new book, my aim is to write something completely different from what I’ve written before. It’s challenging, but also important to keep things fresh. To me, a blank slate before each story is thrilling. To start with nothing, and end with something wholly original. This Never Happened, my third book, began with a feeling we’ve all had before: the feeling of not belonging. I asked myself, “What if I really didn't belong here, but was meant for somewhere else entirely?” From there, I created a character who grows increasingly unsure of his own identity and reality, themes that are also present in my selection of books below.


I wrote...

This Never Happened

By Ryan Tim Morris,

Book cover of This Never Happened

What is my book about?

Around Coney Island, Cepik Small is known as “Epic” but his life could not be less so. And no matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake the feeling that he was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The cocktail of drugs he takes daily doesn’t help and the face-blindness from which he suffers only adds to his feeling of isolation.

Just as he begins seeing a new and unorthodox therapist, Epic also meets the bold and blithe Abigail Ayr. And when a novel found on the subway begins to strangely mirror events in his own life, the mysteries of Epic Small’s dreams quickly and uncontrollably begin to unravel.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of 1Q84

Ryan Tim Morris Why did I love this book?

1Q84 did a lot to help my book get to where it ended up going. I even quoted a line from it at the beginning. This was my first foray into Murakami, and I was never once intimidated by its 1000+ page count (and I try my best to stick to 300-page books). Quite simply, it’s maybe my favourite book of all time.

There’s plenty to unpack in 1Q84, but for the purposes of this recommendation, the book really hits on the ideas of identity and reality, as our dual protagonists discover their places in their worlds may not be exactly what they’d always known.

It's a wild mix of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Magical Realism with cults and killers and parallel worlds and fairy-like creatures sprinkled in.

By Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (translator), Philip ­Gabriel (translator)

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked 1Q84 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her.

She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course…


Book cover of Mistaken

Ryan Tim Morris Why did I love this book?

Mistaken is the tale of two boys (Kevin and Gerald) who are remarkably similar in appearance, though far from similar in affluence and background. The story is set in Dublin and told from the point of view of Kevin, now older and having just attended Gerald’s funeral. It slipstreams through past and present, and at nearly every corner it leaves Kevin questioning his own identity and memories, and wondering if perhaps the boys’ connection had even greater implications than he thought. In my book, there is a fictional novel within the novel, about twins who aren’t twins, and it is loosely inspired by the meeting of Kevin and Gerald in Mistaken.

Neil Jordan is an underrated talent, and his writing is superbly atmospheric here.

By Neil Jordan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mistaken as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Menace both real and imagined haunt two Dubliners in this “unsettling . . . seductive” modern Gothic “that ultimately leaves one gasping” (Irish Times).

“Vampires, secrets, the mysteries of identity: the obsessions that run through the director Neil Jordan’s films are at the center of his beautifully enigmatic novel . . . of two look-alike men who feed off each other’s souls all their crisscrossed lives” (The New York Times).

Kevin Thunder and Gerald Spain have grown up on opposite sides of the Dublin economic divide. Kevin’s father is a bookie and his mother takes in lodgers on the city’s…


Book cover of The Horned Man

Ryan Tim Morris Why did I love this book?

Such a peculiar book. The Horned Man is not for those who want answers or resolutions. By the time the final page is turned you'll find yourself with more questions than you had at any other point in the book. It takes the Unreliable Narrator device to the extreme, to the point where you don’t really believe anything from the get-go, a unique way to tell a story, but it works here. This book is dark, smart, uncomfortable, and it is unlike anything you'll ever read. Lasdun’s prose is also exceptional, and I’ve often found myself getting lost in his paragraphs, enjoying how I can stop and really take the time to re-read how the author has crafted his story, and lead you exactly where he wanted to.

By James Lasdun,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Horned Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Horned Man opens with a man losing his place in a book, then deepens into a dark and terrifying tale of a man losing his place in the world. As Lawrence Miller-an English expatriate and professor of gender studies-tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings, we descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur. As the novel…


Book cover of The Hollow House

Ryan Tim Morris Why did I love this book?

A man is driving to some oceanside cliffs to end his life. On the way, he stops for a night at a B&B in a small fishing village. He meets a girl, who has disappeared in the morning, and the man thinks, “What the heck. I’ll just stick around here and pretend I’m the girl’s boyfriend (who no one in the village has met before) and wait until she returns.” The villagers grow increasingly suspicious (about everything, it seems) and the man is soon caught in an uncontrollable deception of his own making.

This is a really odd, really well-written Gothic tale by an author I’d never heard of (who doesn’t seem to have written anything before or since), but I picked it up because its vagueness intrigued me. It’s the interplay of the main character trying his best to pretend he’s someone he’s not, for reasons even he’s not entirely sure of, that gets me with The Hollow House.

By Carlo Dellonte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hollow House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gothic tale of dark longings and fragile fantasies 'I used to look across the street from my window through the windows of others, but none faced me directly so I could never see more than thin slices of rooms. People appeared from time to time, like pearl divers, briefly coming back to the surface for a breath of air...I was in love with life after dinner, beyond windows that weren't mine, of people I didn't know' As a young man drives hard through the night to reach the sea, he is stopped by the harsh wind and by a…


Book cover of The New York Trilogy

Ryan Tim Morris Why did I love this book?

The New York Trilogy is a collection of three separate postmodern detective stories that are seemingly separate, but also strangely connected.

“City of Glass” follows a writer who becomes a private investigator and begins losing sense of his identity and reality as he becomes entrenched in a case. “Ghosts” is about a different private detective on a different case (or is it?). “The Locked Room” focuses on a writer (but have we met him before?) who is finding it more and more difficult to write anything at all.

The stories dance around a metafiction narrative and there are enough philosophical ruminations within The New York Trilogy to allow readers the opportunity to try and figure out how (or if) they are connected. But perhaps they’re all just a cloud-like concoction from a psyche that maybe doesn’t have the answers either?

By Paul Auster,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The New York Trilogy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paul Auster's signature work, "The New York Trilogy," consists of three interlocking novels: "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room" - haunting and mysterious tales that move at the breathless pace of a thriller."City of Glass" - As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case more puzzling than any he might hace written"Ghosts"Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired to spy on Black. From a window of a rented house on Orange street, Blue stalks his subject, who is staring out…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

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